July 4, 1994:
The day before I was to enter the hospital, the dear folks in my apartment complex got together and threw me a surprise “It Was Nice To Know You” party. Hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill with all the fixings. Tubs of beer (I wasn’t allowed) and sodas (make mine a Coke, please). I lolled on a lounge chair beside the pool like I was Queen of Something-or-Other, while the peasants partied around me.
After dark, we lit fireworks.
Everyone figured it was my last day on earth, and they behaved as such. Someone gave me a stuffed pillow in the shape of an angel. Someone else clipped a rangy bouquet of flowers from her patio garden — she couldn’t look at me, but just stuck out her offering before quickly shuffling back to the barbeque grill to obscure her disolving face inside hamburger smoke. Everyone drank a bit too much.
It felt like I was presiding over my own wake and, in spite of not being able to crack open a beer in solidarity with the now blurry-eyed, swaying, partying group, I was having a blast! It was a true Irish wake for this soon-to-be either very dead or very different Irish girl.
Holding out a sparkler to write my name on the night, I had never been so happy as I was in that moment.
That happy queen of the world feeling lingered a while longer as I made the next morning’s 5:00 a.m. hospital sign-in. My surgery wasn’t scheduled until the following day, but this was prep day — which included the scariest test one could ever have the pleasure of receiving. I was to undergo an angiogram to search for any blood supply to the tumor in my brain. Through a major vessel in the groin, a line is threaded through one’s body and up, up, up into the brain. Once in place, photographic dye is injected and its course followed via special X-Ray machinery that tracks overhead and bang, bang, bangs along its course of scenic picture-taking. When a blood source to the tumor is located, an expanding gel-foam material is injected, thereby giving the patient an embolism to cut off the blood supply. Yes, I said, embolism.
Before the test commenced, the radiologist gave me a run-down of all the quirks and oddities of purposely giving a person a brain embolism. The stand-out feature of this swell little procedure is that (as the doctor explained) they miss their mark half the time, causing all sorts of fun brain thingys such as strokes and sudden death. After hearing the ultimate in TMI (too much information), I was handed a gown and told to meet them in the surgery room after I’d changed.
I went to a small bathroom where I was directed to change, softly closing the door and taking a quick look at my reflection in the mirror. I sure didn’t look like someone about to be embolized into eternity. I changed, then reached for the doorknob to head into the surgery. A funny thing happened on my way to that surgery table, though. No matter how hard I willed it, my hand absolutely refused to open the bathroom door. I was stuck between the physical toilet and the proverbial toilet.
In that small bathroom, with just enough room to turn around, I performed the only reasonable act in my small arsenal of tricks. I fell.
My legs buckled and I fell onto my knees. Damn, this was dumb. They were supposed to work on my head and I was about to present them with two skinned knees that seriously needed boo-boo bandages.
It’s interesting how one becomes suddenly spiritual when given the choice between schmoozing with God … or not. There on my very skinned knees, with hands that refused to open the bathroom door and a crew of doctors and nurses waiting on me, I did the ultimate, yet quick, suck-up to God. “Okay, God,” I said aloud into the small echoey space where I knealt between the sink and toilet. “If you’ll be so kind as to make a brilliant doctor out of that man who’s out there waiting to poke things into my brain, I’ll do my part and trust. I’ll stand up and open the door and we’ll get this thing done. Deal? Deal.”
With that, I stood, opened the door and climbed up onto that Table-o-Fortune for what promised to be another turn on the ride of my life. Ready or not, there I was.
Tomorrow’s episode: Say What?